"Don't Whisper Softly"

My sincere apologies for not having posted a blog since Advent! I have only one excuse. I was busy writing a book. And, I don't know about you, but writing a book - even a short one - is slow, hard work for me. But now that it is complete, I can share a few excerpts with you over the next few weeks (or at least until the book is finally available on Amazon).

The title of the new book is "Joining Jesus - Show Me How: How to Discple Everyday Missionaries." And here's a peek at what you can expect:

I never saw it coming.

As I sat in the passenger seat of this 75-year-old grandma’s aging Buick, I was about to have the ride of my life.

Over the weekend, I had been speaking at a women’s mission conference in Eugene, Oregon. The conference had ended at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday and I was scheduled to lead a training workshop at a church in Portland later that afternoon. So in order to save money on a rental car, this gracious senior had volunteered to drive me back to Portland. I anticipated an uneventful two-hour ride at a reasonable pace (read: within the posted speed limits).

I was wrong. On both counts.

After I put on my seatbelt, she carefully shifted the car into drive and eased her big Buick out of the parking lot. Once we were on I-5 heading north to Portland, she glanced at me and said, “If we hurry, I can take you on some back roads and show you our beautiful wine country. Would you like that?” I asked, “Can we do that and still make it back to Portland in time?” She answered with a gleam in her eye and a slight smile on her face, “We sure can.” And with that, this 75-year-old church lady literally put the pedal to the metal!

Leaving others in the dust, we sped along the interstate for several miles. When she saw the exit she was looking for, we got off the interstate and headed into the hills. Quickly. And she was right. It was beautiful. It was June and the hills between Eugene and Portland were filled with one picturesque vineyard after another. And she was eager to show me it all. But to do so she had to race along the back roads at speeds that would make any Formula One driver proud.

The roads twisted left and right, up and down. Each corner took my breath away, both because of the speed at which we took them but also because of the next view that was revealed. If I lived, I would have some beautiful memories! And then, unexpectedly, she decelerated. We had entered a wide valley and just up the road was a little place she knew of. As she eased into the parking lot, she said, “I always take a pit stop here.” The place was an unexpected wonderland. It was a cornucopia of garden produce, crafts, flowering plants and baked goods. My adventurous friend also knew it was hosting an annual event called “The BBQ, Berries and Brew Festival.”

I partook of two of the three offerings. (She insisted.)

After we got our plate of food and glass of brew, we were directed outside where the land and the view opened up. People were sitting at picnic tables, relaxing and visiting, while an artist played his guitar and sang. It was a surreal experience. Moments before, I had been flying white-knuckled through this picturesque landscape. Now I was sitting in it, enjoying some music, some surprisingly good BBQ and a little something from a local craft brewery.

I turned to Speed Racer and asked, “Do we have time for this?” She looked at me disapprovingly and replied, “Of course, we have time. Now, take a deep breath and enjoy your surroundings.”

So I did. And when I did, I discovered something. (Like I said, I never saw it coming.) Jesus had evidently brought me here for a reason. It wasn’t just for the beauty, or the BBQ, or the brew. It was for the song. Turns out, the artist singing was Tyler Stenson, an award-winning singer/songwriter from Portland. (Clearly the event planners were serious about the entertainment they brought in.) When I heard the words he was singing, one of the lines really settled on me. It went like this, “When it’s the end of the line – your train having rolled through its time – all your graces and legacies stand. So don’t whisper softly the things you want loudly to be.”

The song wasn’t a Christian song or even particularly spiritual. And yet it was. “Don’t whisper softly the things you want loudly to be.” I scrambled to find something to write with so I wouldn’t lose the words. There was something there. Jesus was messing with me through the lyrics.

As we got back in the Buick and continued to Portland, I hardly noticed our breakneck speed anymore because 1) I had come to trust my friend’s skill as a Formula One driver, and 2) I was busy rolling those lyrics around in my head. Through it Jesus seemed to be wrestling with me about legacy; about seeing the end from the beginning; about limited time; about clarity and priority; about intentionality and consistency. And then I realized. There was a parallel here for me about how I was leaving my legacy with my family and friends and how I was discipling them. If I wanted to leave a legacy of family and friends who were filled with Jesus’ love, joy, peace and patience; if I wanted to leave a legacy of them seeking his kingdom and joining him on his mission, then I couldn’t whisper softly the things I wanted loudly to be. Instead, I needed to disciple them on purpose.

[More next week on what discipling is according to Jesus and how to disciple people the way he does in the gospels.]

"Armed Robbery and Emmanuel"

I was taught a valuable lesson about being the “Emmanuel” of God by an armed robbery.

Between March and August, 2011, I worked in a jewelry store owned by my neighbors. They hired me while I got back on my feet and started building the foundation for Dwelling 1:14. During my six months at the store, I never did find my mojo as a jewelry-guy, but I got to know the staff and became friends with many of them. I got to know their stories and they got to know mine.

Of course, most of my story is wrapped up in being the husband of Susan; the father of Amanda, Emilie, and Ellen; a pastor for 20+ years; and a follower of Jesus. Some of the staff embraced me right away. Some were unsure of the “new pastor guy.” I had to prove I was there not to sell religion to them, but jewelry to the customers. And eventually I did.

Even though I never got the hang of selling jewelry, as the months passed I began to gain the trust of the rest of the staff by at least trying hard and being willing to laugh at myself. And even though I wasn’t selling religion (or, more likely, because of it), I eventually found myself having spiritual conversations with most of them. I did that not by being a pushy or clever Jesus-salesperson, but by being a watchful Jesus-follower. I simply watched and listened for what Jesus was already up to. I would ask some questions, do some listening, offer some encouragement or insight or, sometimes, prayer. I was surprised when they began jokingly referring to me as “the Pastor of Lewis Jewels and Timepieces.”

When the day came for me to resign my position so I could lead Dwelling 1:14 fulltime, I was leaving a group of friends. And, after that, I would make it a point to regularly stop in to say “hello” and stay in touch. Which is why I was so concerned when I got the phone call from my owner-friend a couple years later. The store had been robbed at gunpoint. Shots had been fired. The armed robber had been wounded. Everyone was fine. But no one was fine. They had shut down the store for a couple days to clean up the damage. “But could you come by?” my friend asked. “I think everyone needs some encouragement and prayer.” We set it up that I would come the next morning.

When I arrived, the store itself was almost back to normal. But the staff was not. They were trying to be brave but their eyes were still haunted. Fear remained close by. My friend gathered his staff. The store became a sanctuary. I gave them words of grace and encouragement. We held hands and prayed in the name of Jesus. It was good. It was reassuring. It helped.

Then my friend made a little announcement. “For the remainder of the morning Greg will be available to talk with you in the back office. Feel free to come back. Take as much time as you need.”

Everyone headed back to work and I headed back to the office to await the first person. And I waited… and I waited… I had waited about 15 minutes when I realized no one would be coming to me in the office. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I decided to go back out into the store and see. I went up to the first lady I saw and just asked her how she was doing. For the next several minutes she poured out what she had experienced the day of the robbery, what her thoughts had been, and what her feelings still were. I was able to repeat several of the things I had said earlier to the group, but this time it was to her personally. There were tears, there were smiles, there were hugs.

I spent the next couple hours going from person to person doing the same thing.

What had I learned? I call it “the Lesson of Emmanuel.” I could have waited all day for the people to come to me in the office and nothing would have happened. But, as soon as I went to them – and was with them – the words and feelings and healings began to flow. They just needed someone to come to them. To be with them. To ask. And then listen. When all the “bad stuff” from inside got out, then the “good news” I had to share could be heard and get in.

Of course, “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” And Jesus is Emmanuel… literally. He is the “with us” God. He is God made flesh and dwelling with us. And as the Father sent him, so he now sends us. Because Jesus is inside of us through baptism, we are now Emmanuel… literally. We are the body of Jesus living in the neighborhood, heading off to work, attending classes at school.

And we are sent. Not to sit in offices waiting for hurting people to come to us, but to go out to them and see how they’re doing. Allow me to repeat: Not to wait for them, but to go to them. To be with them.

That’s what an armed robbery taught me about Emmanuel.

Where Does All the Love Come From?

As I talk with people both in the church and in the world, it is clear that the #1 solution to most of our problems, hurts, burdens and aggravations is forgiveness and love.

For instance, what would happen if in every marriage both the spouses humbled themselves and loved each other... especially when the other spouse was acting like a jerk. Or what would happen if all of us Christians who were in church last Sunday went home or went to work and started to do the one thing Jesus gave us to do... love our neighbors... especially when they are irritating us. What would happen if all the teens and young adults who are rocking to Jesus songs in their ear buds on campus, treated people who were rude to them better than they deserved? If Christians loved unlovable people, and loved such people habitually, the world would be better. Yes?

Love changes people.

Here's the rub. Where in the world does all that love come from? I'm not feeling it when I'm not first receiving it, especially from the angry, rude, irritating people. I don't have it in me. And, I'm betting, neither do you.

So is loving our neighbors and loving our enemies just a nice thought for Sunday mornings? Do we hear the words of Jesus and immediately beg off because "we are sinners" and can't do it anyway? Or have we not answered the question correctly yet?

Here's the question again... Where does all that love come from? Not from Christians. Not from inside me. The answer is, “Love comes from God," (1 John 4:7). From God, through Christians, to a world that doesn't deserve it but needs it so badly. You already are loved with the abundant love of the Father, so, “Freely you have received, freely give.” There’s a lot more love where that love you have received came from! You don’t have to wonder if you have it or where you can go find it. You don’t have to chase after it or earn it. You can simply remember you already have it. And in abundance. In fact, way back when you were baptized, it was already settled. What the Father said of Jesus at his baptism he said of you at yours, “This is my son (This is my daughter), whom I love; with him (with her) I am well pleased.” That’s our starting point. That’s our source. That’s our True Identity. We are loved, forgiven, and pleasing to the Father. We have that. And in abundance. Remember it and then share it with the next person who doesn't deserve it but needs it so badly. “Freely you have received, freely give.” That’s who we are and that’s what we do.

It's the only hope for the world. 

Now – deep breath… hold it… exhale – what happens when you actually believe this? What happens when you believe you are loved by the Father? Have you noticed? When you believe you are loved by the Father, joy starts to bubble up. You already had an abundance of joy in you, but it wasn’t bubbling up as long as you forgot you are loved. But when you remember you are loved, here comes joy! And on the heels of joy, do you now see what is emerging? Peace. Love and joy together call forth peace. And with love, joy and peace, look what now is within reach… patience. It’s always been there inside of you. You had it as a gift. You just forgot you are loved by the Father, so it seemed far away. But remembering you are loved jump-starts the chain reaction toward patience. After that, look what starts tumbling forth… kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness… and finally even self-control emerges not as an effort of our own but as a fruit of his Spirit and love.

Where does all the love come from for loving the unloveable, loving the jerk, loving the rude, loving the enemy, loving our neighbor or coworker or spouse who is irritating us?

Love comes from God. Freely receive. Freely give. From God, through us, to a person who doesn't deserve it but needs it so badly. It's our only hope. And then watch what God will do when we do so habitually.

Mission Effectiveness: Good, Better, Best

“Activity does not equal accomplishment.”

Years ago I jotted down this quote as I listened to a John Maxwell talk. It made a lot of sense to me then and it still does today. Being busy doesn’t mean I am being effective.

This is especially true of mission. Mission activity does not equal mission accomplishment.

As I travel around the country, I often meet increasingly weary, frustrated leaders who have poured a lot of energy, leadership capital and money into activities and programs they had hoped would have “missional” results. However, despite all the effort and investment in mission activity these particular leaders are not seeing a correlating mission result. In other words, they are not seeing new people come to faith in Jesus.

These leaders are starting to realize mission activity does not necessarily equal mission accomplishment.

Can you relate?

Perhaps it is time for a more insightful way of evaluating mission effectiveness before we put all that effort into the activity.

See if this helps.

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the late Steve Ogne. Steve had been a well-known church planting trainer and coach. When it comes to evaluating mission effectiveness, he had suggested using a simple spectrum of “good, better, best.”

In other words, when considering “mission” activities, think about the level of mission accomplishment you can realistically expect to see as a result. Since so many pioneers have been experimenting over the last 20 years, we can evaluate with a relatively high level of experiential insight.

Here’s how. In terms of mission accomplishment relative to activity investment:

1) Making a difference in a person’s life is good.

2)  Making a difference and making a friend is better.

3)  Making a difference, making a friend and making a disciple is best.

Good, better, best.

So, concerning the mission of God, it is good to make a difference in someone’s day or life. That matters immensely. However, it is better to not only make a difference for the person but to be in position over time to become friends with the person as well. And, at least in terms of mission effectiveness, it is best to not only make a difference and make a friend but to then be on our way to making a disciple.

Experience (and the Gospels) tells us that the key to mission effectiveness is not activity per se but relationship. Therefore, activities that put our people into position to progress from strangers making a difference to friends making disciples can be our new, clearer goal.

Recently I received a note from a mission leader in another state. They were becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of mission-result they were seeing from a huge food give-away they sponsored as a congregation. Lots of volunteers, lots of money, lots of energy. However, as far as they knew, no one had come to faith in Jesus. Giving away food to the hungry is good, of course.  But they had begun this activity with the hope that they would see many people eventually come to faith in Jesus.

As it turns out, the leader and congregation had made a common mistake… one which we have been slowly coming to understand over the last several years of experimenting. They had underestimated the importance of ongoing relationship in mission effectiveness.

The leader writing me wanted to let me know that as a result of reading my new book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission,” they had gone to the latest food give-away and instead of simply making a difference (good), they sat among the people and began to make a friend (better). As a result, the leader has an ongoing friendship (outside of the food give-away environment) with a family from the community. Now there is a realistic hope that this friendship, in time, will be a context for the Holy Spirit to lead the family to faith and discipleship (best).

What are you and/or your congregation doing that is intended to be “missional?”

Into what categories do your activities fall?

·        Making a difference. (Good)

·        Making a difference and making a friend. (Better)

·        Making a difference, making a friend and making a disciple. (Best)

Once we have a realistic understanding of what our activities can accomplish, then a clearer, more realistic strategy can emerge.  For instance, mission activities that simply “make a difference” can take on a strategically important but more realistic role in a congregation’s overall mission strategy. These kinds of activities are effective at giving our members a way of dipping their toe into the “missional” waters for the first time.  Activities that “make a difference” can be viewed by mission-rookies as relatively low-risk. Such activities give them first-step experiences that help them begin to think and feel differently about the people in the community around them. (Good)

However, where leaders unintentionally help their people get stuck is when these kind of “good” mission activities are the only environments we propose or promote even though they are not necessarily conducive to the next step of making friends. A better idea is to have the next step of the strategy prepared ahead of time so that when people are ready they can move from “the good” of making a difference to “the better” of investing themselves for the sake of making a friend. As leaders, we do not need to think “either/or” – that is, either good or better – rather, we can think sequentially. Good to better to best.

Each step in this progression requires more of a personal investment from our people, but the progression we now propose and promote gives them the actual experience they need to be ready for the higher investment and gives them a more realistic opportunity to see missional fruit as a result of their investment.

Mission effectiveness is all about the depth of relationship we are able to enjoy with people who don’t know Jesus. What will be your strategy to help your people progress from strangers making a difference to friends making disciples?

Many have found my book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission” to be a helpful tool for accomplishing just that.  Shoot me an email or give me a call if you’d like to talk.

Why is Witnessing So Hard for Us?

Wherever I go, I find people of God who want to be better equipped to witness. They long to be able to tell people the good news of Jesus. But they lack confidence. They feel unprepared. They are afraid.

What is wrong?

I have found that the core to our fear of witnessing rests in a handful of misunderstandings.

1)     Our expectations are off. I have found that most people have a vague expectation that somehow their witnessing is supposed to result in conversion... on the spot… immediately… preferably accompanied by tongues of fire on the head. With such expectations who wouldn’t be terrified?

2)     Our models are off. As we look around for what it looks like to “be a witness” in our neighborhood or workplace, we see preachers and teachers “witnessing” at church. But we can’t carry a pulpit or podium into our neighborhood or workplace and “witness” like they do. Outside of church our models are even less helpful. We see street preachers in public spaces or aggressive people in our workplaces or neighborhoods and know those are not our models either. But we are still left wondering what a natural, enjoyable spiritual conversation with a pre-Christian person looks like.

3)     Our understanding of “good news” is off. As Lutherans, we can be so concerned with being doctrinally correct, we lose track of what is actually “good” about the “good news of God”. We hear the “good news of God” preached and taught at church. During confirmation years, we have perhaps memorized the “good news of God” for a test. We have the head-knowledge down but what about the heart-knowledge of the “good news of God”?

4)     Our understanding of “witness” is off. When it comes to “witnessing” our faith, we tend to overestimate correct words and underestimate lifestyle and friendship. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves thinking that if we can just say “it” correctly, a pre-Christian will come to faith. While the Holy Spirit uses words to create faith, we forget that He also uses two other ingredients: the way we live and friendship. Jesus points to this in Matthew 5:16 when He lifts up doing good as an important form of witnessing (as does Peter in 1 Peter 2:12 and 3:1). Friendship with pre-Christians is important because it allows us to share our lives and our stories over time. Perhaps one way to understand how words, lifestyle and friendship go together is to ask, “Am I known by my pre-Christian friends for what I say I believe? Or am I known for what I actually do?”

5)     We lack experience. Leroy Biesenthal in his witness training workbook from 30 years ago wrote, “Experience has shown that although all are witnesses, not many witness. I give thanks for those who have been moved by God’s Spirit to give a ready testimony to their faith. But the number is few. Even among church people, I find precious little important Gospel sharing. Oh, there’s a lot of ‘church talk’ and ‘institution sharing’ but not much [talk about what Jesus is doing in our lives]. Indeed, I have repeatedly suggested that one of the reasons we in the LCMS find it so difficult to talk to others about Jesus is that we rarely talk to each other about Him in a natural, casual, spontaneous way.” Every Sunday we have trained professionals or gifted volunteers telling us about Jesus.  But when do we have an opportunity to put our thoughts, stories and beliefs into words?

When people have these kinds of misunderstandings combined with this kind of inexperience, no wonder witnessing seems so hard!

The solution?  Simple.  Start with relaxing.

1)      Expectations: Rather than putting pressure on ourselves to “hit it out of the park” or feeling like it’s “baptism or bust,” remember that Jesus puts the focus for results on Himself. Our role is so simple even a child can do it: Each day watch for opportunities to cast seeds of love, service and good news into the lives of people around us. Then watch what HE does.

2)      Models: Rather than trying to model ourselves after professional preachers or aggressive promoters of religion, look for models who know how to listen and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit as a lifestyle.  (More on this in a moment.)

3)      News that’s Good: What is “good” about the good news of God?  What is it about the good news that makes a person smile and say, “Wow! Am I glad you told me that!” We already know the answer to this intuitively, we just need some help clarifying it and putting it into words.  (More on this in a moment, too.)

4)      Witness: How we live and how we love is just as important as what we say. In fact, if we live and love well, pre-Christians will seek out what we have to say. However, if all we have are words, people will lose respect for us.

5)      Experience: How do we gain experience in giving witness to our faith? The easiest way is to regularly gather with other everyday missionaries to tell our stories of seeking the Kingdom and joining Jesus in daily life. In chapter 19 of my book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission” I talk about the importance of the missional community. By coming together in order to tell our stories (using the 5 Questions), we become models for each other for witnessing. At the same time, we start to gain experience in reflecting, recognizing and putting into words the stories of what Jesus is up to around us. We gain experience reflecting on what is “good” about the good news of God. Over time, this kind of reflecting and telling of stories becomes increasingly familiar and normal for us. Now when the opportunity arises to tell a little of our story (a.k.a. witness) to our pre-Christian friend, we are no longer new and unfamiliar with how this goes. We do this every week in our missional community. Witnessing is now simple and even fun because we have EXPERIENCE.

Leroy Biesenthal was right, “I have repeatedly suggested that one of the reasons we in the LCMS find it so difficult to talk to others about Jesus is that we rarely talk to each other about Him in a natural, casual, spontaneous way.”

Here’s the solution. And it’s not so hard after all.

Turn Bible Study into Discipling

Preaching and teaching the Word of God is a top priority for church workers in every congregation. Likewise, there are numerous volunteer teachers and group leaders in every congregation. All of them prepare thoroughly and conscientiously because they want to get the preaching/teaching right. They honestly believe much is riding on accurate theology and insightful life application for their hearers and students.  And they are right!  Much is riding on this.

Here's the rub.  If preaching/teaching is simply the accurate transmission of theology and abstract (albeit insightful) life application, we will see little growth/change in the people receiving the teaching. The reason? Jesus tells us. The end goal of His preaching/teaching is not simply knowing truth cognitively nor getting the right answer in a discussion or on a quiz. The goal of Jesus is experiencing His truth through putting it into practice in real life.

Jesus' parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7) says it this way: Don't be the fool who hears His words but doesn't put them into practice.  You end up knowing the right answer in theory but remain inexperienced in how truth really works in life (like building on sand). Instead, be the wise one who hears His words AND puts them into practice.  In this way you find out stuff about the Kingdom that the abstract thinkers never do.  You find out how truth works in real life. You become an experienced Jesus-follower (like building on rock).

How can we turn the corner from simply preaching and studying God's Word accurately but abstractly to discipling our people in God's Word concretely? How can we start to see long awaited, long desired GROWTH in ourselves and our people? It starts with us no longer seeing preaching and teaching as ends in themselves and starting to use preaching and teaching as means to the greater end of discipling God's people... like Jesus does in the Gospels.

I have found we can do this in a simple, consistent way by adding one important question at the end of our preaching and teaching time (or our family devotions).  Ask the people this question: "As a result of what you have received from God's Word today, what do you think He is giving you to believe or do in the coming week?" Then give everyone about 90 seconds to write down their response. When they are done, end with a closing prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to help everyone watch for opportunities to put that belief or practice into play during the week.

The next time your class or group gathers, give the people 10 minutes to break into groups of two or three and share with each other what they found out as they put that belief or practice into play. (We call this "Take-10.")  This helps ground God's Word in the experience of their real lives and gives them deeper insights to the words of Jesus.

Give this a try for the next few weeks.  If your experience is anything like those who have been doing this around the country, you will see a marked increase in the stories people have regarding hearing the words of Jesus AND putting them into practice.


The New BIG Goal for Easter 2017

7:16 a.m. Easter Morning

7:16 a.m. Easter Morning

It was just before sunrise this past Easter Sunday morning. 100+ neighbors gathered in the predawn light in a public green space near our home to commemorate and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There was excitement. There was joy. There was community. There were donuts. There was the resurrected Jesus on the loose in the neighborhood.

And there were Baptisms... seven of them... two families who live in the neighborhood and who are now citizens of the same Kingdom. There was water and the Word. There were covenant promises made by the Father. There were smiles, and tears and laughter. And hugs... lots and lots of hugs.

This was the fifth year we've had Easter Sunrise in the Neighborhood.  I get asked a lot, "How does that happen?"  How does 100+ neighbors gathering before sunrise happen?? (Full disclosure: When I was the pastor of a local church we could never even get 100 members to a sunrise service!) How does having seven neighbors ask for Baptism happen?? Facebook comments were excited when I posted pictures later that day. People wrote things like, "That is simply amazing!" "So awesome!" "Wow! Like the early Church!"

Friends across the country were blessed to know what Jesus was up to in our neighborhood.

But that's just it. There is no reason this should be a unique or amazing story in my particular neighborhood. This could be normal.  This kind of story could be status quo for Easter morning in our neighborhoods all over the country. (Yes, I know Midwest, you alway like to point to the challenge of your Easter weather.  Got it.  So, instead of 100 in a green space, change the narrative to 20 in a warm space. :)

Allow me to take the mystery (and fear) out of being a neighborhood missionary. It really does boil down to this: do you want to see more unbaptized people baptized in the next year? Start investing in friendships with a couple unbaptized people beginning this week.

Going to church every Sunday doesn't make you a missionary.

Having mission passion and a mission strategy doesn't make you a missionary.

One thing makes you a missionary... do you have a growing friendship with Jesus and with an unbaptized person or two? You see, it really does boil down to actual time spent with actual unbaptized people... having fun, having a meal, having a conversation, enjoying them as a person of value. Not for hours and hours every week. They probably don't want to be with you that much! But some time every couple weeks invested in the friendship.

Fun Fact: There are approximately 7.2 billion people on the face of the earth currently. Of those 7.2 billion people, 2.2 billion are Christian.  That leaves 5 billion preChristian, unbaptized people for the 2.2 billion Christians.  Sounds overwhelming, right?  "Let's all head out this week and shoot for about a million unbelievers each.  We'll report back next Sunday and see how we did!"  Sounds crazy.

But how does the math really work out? Do you know how many preChristian, unbaptized people there are per Christian on the earth? It's about two each. Two. 5 billion divided by 2.2 billion = about 2 people each. Two preChristian, unbaptized people for each Christian. Hmmm... two isn't so crazy. In fact, two is doable.

What might happen if over the next year each Christian were to invest in friendships with 2 unbaptized people?

So what is your church's mission/outreach/evangelism strategy for the next year? What if you put that on hold and shifted the strategy to simply this: over the next year each member offers friendship to two unbaptized people who are already living/working/playing nearby. Meet them, find out their names, eat with them, laugh and visit with them.  Find out their story. Find out what they think, what matters to them, what makes them mad, what they value, what they hope. It's simpler than we think and a lot more fun.

And share your story, too. Who you are. What you feel. Who you lean on. Not all at once. But as the conversation invites it. It takes time. Be patient. Enjoy it. (Remember, Jesus has got this. He is just ahead of you not just behind.)

After one year, if you have 100 people in church, there could be friendships with 200 unbaptized people in the neighborhoods.  What other strategy offers such potential?  What program could you substitute that results in 100 Christians having friendships with 200 unbaptized neighbors?

Will all 200 people want to be baptized in a year? No. But here's how this math works: no friendships with unbaptized people = the number of adult baptisms you saw last year.  200 friendships with unbaptized people = more than you saw last year.

So here's the new Easter Sunday 2017 BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal): two friends who just happen to be unbaptized.

Ready, set, go.

Unbaptized no more. "You are Mine."

Unbaptized no more. "You are Mine."

The Reason He Took Away Our Sins

“As we prepare to celebrate what we’re saved from, let’s not forget to champion what we’re saved for.”

It’s almost Holy Week.  For congregational leaders this is a busy, busy time because we are making such important preparations. A lot is riding on these next ten (or so) days. This is the Super Bowl of the Church Year. Many more people than usual will gather ready to be led through the climactic events of our Lord’s redemptive work. There will be liturgy and word; experience and emotion; symbol and sound; table, garden, cross, and tomb.

And we need to prepare…

There are messages to write, music to rehearse, experiences to plan, decorations to arrange, bulletins to print… and to what end? We want the people of God to hear and experience the good news of God: Jesus died on the cross and rose again to save us from our sins!

But as we prepare to help the people of God celebrate what they are saved FROM, let’s not forget to champion what they are saved FOR. Easter is not a finish line; it is a launching pad! Let’s go ahead and tell them the REST of the story. Let’s go ahead and tell them what is now in play BECAUSE Jesus died and rose. Let’s go ahead and tell them what they are saved to DO.  On Easter Sunday Jesus launched a redemptive ADVENTURE and many of our people don’t even know about it!

In our Lutheran teachings we are very clear and specific in confessing what we are saved FROM.  We are saved FROM sin, death and the power of the devil.  A stunning gift that is worthy of tremendous celebration!  However, it also seems that we Lutherans are not always as specific about confessing and celebrating what we are saved FOR.

And what ARE we saved for? What is the rest of the story? Why exactly did Jesus die on the cross and rise again to save us from sin, death and the devil? Was it so we could simply run out the clock until we die and go to Heaven someday?

A favorite passage for us Lutherans is Ephesians 2:8-9. And for good reason, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” In these verses we are given the nuts and bolts of our salvation. But verses 8-9 are followed by verse 10. And verse 10 tells us WHY God did all that work of grace-ing us and faith-ing us. Was it just to get us into Heaven someday? Or was it because He also has something up His sleeve for our Monday?

Verse 10 clears it up, “For we are God’s workmanship [God did all that work of grace-ing us and faith-ing us for a reason], [we are] created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” There it is! That’s what we are saved FOR!

We are saved FROM sin, death and the devil SO THAT we can participate in the mission of God again.  We are saved FOR getting up each morning and heading out with Jesus to participate in the good which the Father has prepared in advance for us to do.

That’s the rest of the story.  That’s what the people of God get to DO!

Because we are baptized, every morning, Jesus in effect is kneeling near our bed waiting for our eyes to flutter open.  When He sees we are returning to consciousness He smiles and says to us, “Good morning! I’m glad you’re finally awake!  As soon as you’re ready, let’s go see what the Father has prepared in advance for us to do today. It’ll be fun! Come, follow me!”

Saved from sin, death and the devil. Saved for joining Jesus on His mission.

As we prepare to help our people celebrate what they are saved FROM, let’s not forget to champion what they are saved FOR.

In the Gospels, Easter wasn’t the finish line for Jesus; it was the launching pad for His all-out rescue mission. This Holy Week that rescue mission is still in full play and Jesus is still inviting us who are saved and free to join with Him. Go ahead and tell your people the good news! Go ahead and tell them that Jesus died and rose not just so we could go to Heaven someday (a stunning gift) but so that we could go with Him on Monday, too (a great adventure)! It’s what we were saved FOR.

“Good morning! Let’s go see what the Father’s prepared in advance for us to do!”


There are only seven days left until Christmas, but there is still plenty of opportunity for Advent(uring).

What is Advent(uring)? It is diving into the melee of pre-Christmas crowds and sales clerks and postal workers and office parties and... in other words, diving into the craziness of what we are already enduring (at least for another week) and seeing what Jesus may be up to.

We are in the middle of it anyway. Why not look for what Jesus may be up to, as well? It's not that he is inactive during busy times like these, it's that we get distracted. So Advent(uring) is heading into the craziness and, while we're there, looking for the opportunities Jesus has prepared in advance for us to do.  You just never know what Jesus may be up to! It's an Advent(ure)!

Example: yesterday I had to go to the Post Office to mail off some last minute book orders. I drove up to my local Post Office and the line was literally out the door. Great. And I had 9 packages. I know. I was THAT guy... the guy who is ahead of you in line with a bazillion boxes. You quietly groan to yourself.

With you in mind, I decided not to stand in line for live postal service.  Instead I went to the automated service machine.  There was only one woman in front of me.  Unfortunately she didn't know how to work the machine. Great. And she had EIGHT packages. Now I'm the one groaning under my breath.

Thankfully, I was ready for an Advent(ure). What might Jesus be up to here?

Because I ship a lot of books, I have used this machine many times.  It can be confusing because of all the questions it needs to ask the customer.  But once you catch the logic of it, it is really pretty easy.  So when I saw the woman struggling (and becoming visibly embarrassed) I began gently suggesting which buttons to push and how to correct her mistakes.  Soon she caught on.  And although it had taken several minutes to do her first couple transactions, the last several were done in no time.

She was relieved and thankful and her face turned from a worried frown to a big smile.  Advent(uring)! I didn't get to preach the Good News to her, but I did get to plant a small seed of good in her life. And you just never know what Jesus may do with that seed.

So now it was finally my turn for the machine. Nine boxes.  And wouldn't you know it,  when I glanced behind me,  I saw another customer who only needed a few stamps. So I invited him to go ahead of me.  Guess what.  Yep.  He didn't know how to work the machine either.  So I helped him. 

He left relieved and smiling, as well.  I was starting to enjoy standing at the machine and helping stressed customers regain their joy. Advent(uring)!

So while I was on a roll, I let the next man go ahead of me, too.  He only had one package.  Piece of cake.  He noticed my boxes of books and noticed I had a vague resemblance to the picture of the author on the back of the book. He said, "Did you write these books?" "Yes, sir," I said, "Would you like a copy? I'd be happy to give you one.  Consider it a Christmas gift." Turns out his name is Baldo and he was ripe and ready for "Joining Jesus," too.  Who would have guessed?

I came to a busy Post Office to mail nine boxes. Jesus brought me to the Post Office to be a part of the good he had prepared in advance for these three people.

It' called Advent(uring). And there's still plenty of opportunities before Christmas for you to play, too.

You just never know...

[A special thank you to Rev. Mark Dahn who first used the word Advent(uring) in an email to me!]

The Girl with the Pink Hair...

An unusual look passed over the face of the girl with the pink hair and facial piercings. Then she said, "No one’s ever nice to me…”

Like most great stories, mission stories are made up of a series of individual episodes. These individual episodes eventually are strung together to tell us the whole story. But the story itself takes time to unfold. Each episode within the story leaves the story itself incomplete. There is suspense and uncertainty. There is unfinished business. There is usually a series of “cliff hangers” that keep the story pressing forward into the next episode and the next until – eventually – we come to an amazing conclusion.

That’s what makes a great story great.

Mission stories are the greatest of stories. They are real life stories, authored by God Himself. They are stories of unredeemed, ruined people discovering His love and forgiveness and experiencing the restoration of new life with Him. Eventually. As noted, these stories are made up of individual episodes which unfold over time, usually years. “Mission episodes” are moments in time when God decides to have us cross paths with a person who needs a little of what we have in abundance – His grace or kindness or joy or truth.

And there’s the rub.

The nature of an individual “mission episode” is that while it is important to the overall story God is writing, the story itself is yet unfinished. There remains suspense and uncertainty. We are left with a cliff hanger of which we may never know the conclusion until we come into Heaven. Bottom line?  If you need to know the conclusion of their story at the end of your episode with them, you will usually be frustrated. Why? Because at the end of an episode all you really will know is that there is more story to come. You’ve done all you can do and now you have to be patient as the Writer of Stories moves beyond you and on to the next episode of the person’s mission story.

And, I don’t know about you, but I’m not that good at patience.

That’s why I find it helpful to think about the individual mission episodes ending not with an exclamation mark (usually reserved for the amazing conclusion of the story) but with an ellipsis mark.

A what?

An ellipsis mark. You know, the dot, dot, dot used at the end of a phrase to indicate a pause in a thought or a story… (there’s one now!)

I have found over the years that most mission episodes end with the dot, dot, dot of an ellipsis. That’s because an episode is usually somewhere in the middle of the story and there is more story yet to come. I may help move the story along with my particular episode. But the episode ends with…

I used to worry about my episodes ending with the dot, dot, dot. I didn’t want the cliff hanger of the ellipsis!  I wanted closure. I wanted conclusion. I wanted redemption being accomplished! But instead there was only a pause… These days, I have learned that if I come to the end of my particular episode with a person, and redemption has not yet come, I see it concluding not with failure but with an ellipsis. Jesus isn’t finished with the story yet. There are more episodes to come for the person.

When I began to understand that, when I began to trust that Jesus is doing the bigger work of stringing smaller episodes together in the whole story of a person’s redemption I found peace. I now have peace even as I see episodes ending with the dot, dot, dot of the ellipsis. I don’t feel obligated to force more conversation, to force more than Jesus had prepared in advance for me to do. As my part ends with an ellipsis mark rather than an exclamation mark I know I can trust Him with the rest of their story.

Back to the episode of the girl with the pink hair…

My friend walked into a local Target store. It had been a bad day for him. A really bad day. Have you had one of those lately? He had come to Target to return an item. “Won’t this be fun,” he muttered to himself. That’s when he spotted the girl with the pink hair and facial piercings behind the counter. He had seen her here before working the register. There weren’t too many people who went for that kind of look in his part of the country. She stood out. And, on this particular day, for some reason (o.k., it was God’s grace), her hair gave my friend a smile. Not a smile of mockery or derision but of joy.

Her pink hair gave him joy. Go figure.

So as she processed his return, he simply said, “You know, I have had a really bad day. And I just want you to know your hair has made me smile.” A frown formed on her pierced lips. My friend quickly added, “I’m not making fun. You really have made my day better. Thank you.” That’s when the unusual look passed over her face and she finally said, “No one’s ever nice to me…” [Notice the ellipsis.]

Her pink hair stood out to him. His simple act of grace stood out to her.

It was a powerful moment as my friend realized what was happening. To a person who regularly receives love, his small act of kindness would have been a small matter. But to someone who regularly receives none…

Afterwards, my friend worried that maybe he hadn’t said enough. Maybe he should have done more.  Maybe he should have somehow brought up Jesus. There was no baptism at the return counter that day or even a solid Gospel presentation. The girl with the pink hair’s mission story remains unfinished. It is a cliff hanger. I can’t tell you how her story ends because it’s still being written… but it is being written by Jesus. All I can tell you is how this particular episode ends. It ends with my friend again thanking the girl with the pink hair for her service and for making his day better. It ends with a seed of grace having been planted in a hurting heart.

And it ends with the dot, dot, dot of the mission ellipsis.

It's Neighboring Season!

It's “neighboring” season in America!

Jesus is already on the loose in your neighborhood pursuing His Father’s mission of redemption and restoration.  And He invites you to join Him!  One of the simplest ways to do this is through “neighboring.”

“Neighboring” is how we get to know our neighbors. Neighboring takes seriously the fact that mission happens best in a context where relationship and friendship have been cultivated over time. Neighboring may happen through a planned event like a cookout or through something more spontaneous like stopping for a chat while walking the dog. Either way, neighboring puts us into position to start finding out who our neighbor is, what their story is and what Jesus already seems to be up to in their life.

On pages 149-151of the book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission” I share 30 ideas we have used over the years that put us into position to meet and enjoy neighbors. Some are more for introverts some are more for extroverts (why not team up and make it easier for both!). Some are planned, some spontaneous. However, all these ideas have been tried and found to work. (Order the book by clicking here. For quantity orders, email me for discounts at finkeonthemove@aol.com)

I enjoy receiving emails from people telling the stories of how things are going in their neighborhood. I have included a few below to encourage and inspire you to give neighboring a go during these summer months.

From Tricia in Kentucky (a pastor’s wife): We had our first intentional front porch conversation with our new neighbors. Turns out, they moved here from California believing they would be neighborhood missionaries. All it took was an offer of coconut cream pie to open the flood gates. Chatted for 2 hours - decided on a neighborhood connecting time - he even prayed over my husband who had surgery earlier in the week (such a role reversal). When Jesus is already there, you just need an open heart when you show up to the conversation. Thanks be to God for His perfect timing. PS- they were sitting out in their driveway for a few days. I should have known what they were planning! Going to give them your book.

From Pat in Austin (an instructor at Concordia University): On Good Friday and the Saturday before Easter I baked a bunch of muffins and gave them away house to house in our neighborhood.  Had some neat conversations and also got a few prayer requests.  On Easter morning there was a little basket of candy on our doorstep, and one of our neighbors wrote us this note (which totally made my day).

Thank you – It’s not just the muffins or the thoughtful sharing but a quality reminder of fellowship in our community and the desire to inspire and make the LORD present in our daily lives.  Jesus lives!”  Deborah

From a widow in California: I have an unusual opportunity here because I own a home and rent out the bedrooms to students to pay my mortgage. I am always looking for ways to reach out to them, as most are not believers. I have found a group of students who worship on campus on Sunday nights, and I was able to connect 2 students with each other – one who was homeless and still struggles with alcohol and drugs from time to time and another who is active in the group on campus. What a blessing to have them thank me for connecting them together.

From Donna (a retired teacher): I took care of my son's chickens while he was out of town..  They were producing eggs faster than I could eat or store them so I began distributing a dozen at a time to my neighbors.  It gave me an opportunity to talk with my neighbors, and I even got to know one neighbor that I have been trying to love as Christ has asked us all to do, "Love thy neighbor as thyself."  We had great conversation and he was quite friendly, much to my surprise!  It was a blessing to me because Jesus was already ahead of me, preparing my path.  I never thought being “The Egg Lady" would be a ministry opportunity!

From a couple in San Diego: We had a neighborhood gathering which we had been hoping to have for over a year. We finally met last night and just got to know one another for the first time. Originally we hoped to have 6-8 folks but we ended up with over 30 adults, 8 children and 3 nuns...they all seemed hungry for this time together...that lasted over 3 hours! Great fellowship...getting to know each other and sharing our lives...I was overwhelmed with what was happening! I don't know where God will take this...but it is exciting! I share this, because others may have a vision just waiting to happen! Please pray for this group of wonderful people.

Does Jesus have a vision just waiting to happen in your neighborhood, too?  There’s only one way to find out. Let neighboring season begin!

If you have a story to share, please email it to me!  You can help encourage others, too.

What Are You Expecting to See Today?

The Easter Gospels communicate many important truths. Here’s one I overlooked until recently: How easy it is to miss Jesus when we don’t expect to see Him.

In John 20, Jesus is standing right in front of Mary but she doesn’t realize it is Him. At least one reason why? She didn’t expect to see Him there. “Where have you put Him?” Mary asks the One she thinks is a gardener. “He’s supposed to be in this tomb.”

In Luke 24, Jesus is walking right alongside the two on the road to Emmaus, talking with them about recent events.  But they don’t realize it is Jesus.  At least one reason why? They didn’t expect to see Him there. “Don’t you know what has happened?” they asked the One they think is just another traveler. “They killed Him 3 days ago in Jerusalem.”

And in John 21, once again Jesus is standing on the shore easily within sight of Peter and the others who are fishing.  But they don’t realize it is Jesus.  At least one reason why? They didn’t expect to see Him there. After all, who would expect Jesus to show up out of nowhere to cook breakfast?

But that’s the point. Since His resurrection from the dead, you just never know where Jesus will show up! He’s out of the tomb and on the loose pursing His Father’s mission! Seek Him and you will find Him. Expect Him and you will see Him.

And then?

  • · “Rabboni!” Mary cries out in recognition.

  • · “Were our hearts not burning?” the two ask in recognition.

  • · “It is the Lord!” the fishermen shout out in recognition.

A blinding flash of the obvious!

And here is a blinding flash of the obvious for us, too. As with Mary and Peter and the others, Jesus is regularly showing up right in front of us, as well. If we aren’t recognizing it is Jesus, there is probably at least one reason why.  We aren’t expecting to see Him there! However, Jesus is regularly showing up in our vicinity, too, pursuing His Father’s mission in the lives of people around us. He invites us to expect Him. He invites us to join Him by seeking and finding the daily redemptive good He has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Whether we have the fun of recognizing Jesus showing up rests largely with whether we are expecting to see Him or not. How easy it is to miss Jesus when we don’t expect to see Him, but how simple it is to recognize Him when we do. A blinding flash of the obvious!

And what will Jesus look like when He shows up in our vicinity?  How can we realize, “It is the Lord!” before the moment passes? Look at the people around you.  What’s their name?  What’s their story? Look for where a little grace can be applied in their life.  That’s where Jesus is already present and working. “It is the Lord!”

Mary only saw a gardener.  The two on the road saw just another traveler.  Peter saw some guy on shore cooking.  But in each case it was really Jesus.

When you look around today, who will you see?  Someone having a bad day?  Someone needing an extra ear or an extra hand?  Someone in need of a little hope, a little grace, a little news that is good?

Jesus says, when you see that, “It is the Lord!”

You can expect it.

A Good Answer for a Misleading Critique

At the end of 2014, I was surprised to add up that my book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission,” had sold more than 10,000 copies since its publication in late February.  10,000 copies in 10 months.  Never saw that coming!

When I wrote “Joining Jesus” my goal was simple: I didn’t want to write a theological textbook but a practical handbook.  I wanted to honor and stand on the shoulders of our best biblical theology without feeling the need to repeat all of it.  I wanted a short book that showed regular folk how to actually join Jesus not a long book theologians simply sat around and talked about.

Regular folk seem to appreciate that.  Not all the “theologians” seem to.

For instance, on Amazon.com there are 36 reviews posted.  35 are glowing.  1 is not.  It would be easy for me to set aside such a critique. After all, you can’t win them all, right?  As I read the review (or the one posted on a synodical website) my initial thought was, “Did they read the same book I wrote?”  In that way it was almost comical.

However, not so funny is how some innocent lay people have Googled “Joining Jesus” (when their pastor or group leader has suggested it as a resource) and they find one of these two misleading reviews online. The reviews can cause undue hesitation, confusion about their pastor’s judgment, or worst of all, keep them from joining Jesus on His mission.

While my initial thought after reading the review was, “I think they missed the point,” Vicar Mark Hunsaker of Branson, Missouri did one better.  He posted his own review on Amazon.com, which I believe does a wonderful and winsome job of answering the misleading critique.

I have received permission from Mark to include portions of his review below so that you can show it to your folks who are wondering what to think.  (Thanks, Mark!)

A Good Answer from Vicar Mark Hunsaker

“While another review I read here suggested that this book is ‘theologically inadequate,’ I would challenge that notion by saying that this book is a wonderfully accessible foray into practical use of the theology of mission. In fact, I find it noteworthy that a reviewer would look for 20th Century dogmatic language (which has been forwarded from earlier centuries) in a work intended for those who have not studied such disciplines. Indeed, Greg Finke is light on theological jargon and lighter yet on academic and theoretical ideas. But when considering the author's setting and purpose, this is entirely appropriate.

“What will you find? A book which is utterly practical. While pastors and other trained theologians may have the ability to systematically engage theology and know how to use it in their vocations, the average church-goer probably doesn't.

“But that is where this book's contribution comes alive: What should we ACTUALLY DO on a Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.? Or on Friday night when I'm at my neighbor's house for dinner? Or on Sunday afternoon when I'm at the local Cracker Barrel for lunch after having just attended Divine Worship where I received God's Gifts?

“The issue isn't that this book is theologically inadequate, but rather, that it is engaging theology in an area where our tradition has been inadequate. It is challenging us to look again at the imperative Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:18-20 and then asks the very important question: What does it look like to live out that imperative where I live, learn or work? How we answer that question is very much a theological exercise.

“Finke's question, ‘How's Jesus been messing with you lately?’ comes to bear right here. He is not promoting a departure from God's Word as some have suggested, but rather he is calling us back to it. How is God's Word, his clear Word, disrupting our apparent status quo? What are the things we are doing, looking like in comparison with God's Word? If we've got our distribution of God's gifts just right, but we are not "preaching the Word wherever" we go (a description of the laypeople in Acts 8:4), then why? Does our view of ‘church’ passed down to us from the 20th Century match what is in Scripture? Does our view of the activity of the church match what is in Scripture? These are questions Finke challenges us to look at and the way we answer them is very much a theological exercise. His efforts to get the rank and file thinking theologically about these things, in very practical ways that play out in their vocations, is simply wonderful.

“An outstandingly practical and theologically provocative work!”

It All Began on Christmas...

[Here’s some Advent meat and vegetables to go with the sugar cookies.]

We may sing, “All is calm, all is bright,” to celebrate Christmas, but Christmas is really D-day… the day the rescue mission of God launched into the created world.  Christmas marks the day God got Himself born into our created world.  Bethlehem was His beachhead.  By getting Himself born as a baby, He got Himself into the reality of the created world… and with a purpose.

On one level a baby being born and placed in a manger is calming and beautiful. But to the forces of hell, it was a strategic strike marking the beginning of their end.  They knew it was coming.  It had been foretold from of old.  They just couldn’t stop it.  God was rescuing the world.

And He invites us to join Him.

You see, while it all began on Christmas, and was established as an irrevocable conclusion at the cross and empty tomb, the rescue mission of God is still very much in play right now.  The yeast is still spreading throughout the loaf.  The Good News of God is still making its way deeper into the neighborhoods of the world.  It has started.  But it is not done.

Have you noticed the unrest in Syria, Ferguson, your own community, your own family?  They are all signals that the rescue mission of God is still pressing forward and that the forces of hell are still pressing back… hard.  But it won’t work.

Why? [At this point you will expect the answer to be, “Because of Jesus.” And that is the first and biggest part of the answer.  But the full answer for why the forces of hell won’t win in places as widespread as Syria or St. Louis or your own home is because of people of God like you.  Read on.]

God is rescuing the world… through people.  God began rescuing the world through a person… Jesus.  He continues rescuing the world through people… people like us who now have Jesus living in us.

Wherever the forces of hell still press back, the people of God are invited to be counter-forces of love, joy, peace and Good News.  We are not only beneficiaries of God’s rescue mission, we are agents of it.  We don’t get rescued and then sent to the sideline to wait for Heaven.  We are not only saved from sin, death and the devil; but we are savedfor joining the rescue mission of God.

Wherever peace will prevail, wherever love and joy will reemerge, wherever forgiveness begins to trump vengeance, know this, men or women of God are somewhere in the middle of it joining Jesus.

It began at Christmas… but it continues today.

What will you be in the middle of today with Jesus?

Joining Jesus

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” (John 1:14, MSG)

Jesus is on a mission.

He is on a grand adventure to redeem and restore human lives to the kingdom of his Father. This is nothing new. Ever since he broke out of the tomb on Easter Sunday, Jesus has been on the loose, pursuing his redemptive mission, messing with people, ripening people, preparing people to be drawn back to the Father he loves. It’s what he does.

And he’s on the move in your neighborhood, too.

The concept of “neighborhood” is very important for the missional lifestyle. So let’s take a moment to define it. “Neighborhood” is all about relationships, or the potential relationships we could have with just a little intentionality.  For our purposes a “neighborhood” is defined as any network of relationships (or potential relationships) to which we have regular access. We may not know the people yet or know them well, but for a variety of reasons these people are regularly within our reach. What are some examples of these relational networks we call “neighborhoods?”

Obviously the “neighborhoods” where we live qualify, and so do the “neighborhoods” of our workplaces and schools. We are regularly within reach of the same people. But there are many other “neighborhoods” in which we regularly find ourselves. For instance, some of us have access to recreation leagues, yoga classes or craft beer clubs. Some of us are band parents, soccer moms or routinely wait with other dads as our daughters finish up dance classes. Some of us volunteer with community revitalization groups or social service agencies. Some of us are Chamber members or Rotary Club members. Some of us are at country clubs, community centers or the Y. All of these are examples of “neighborhoods” in which we may find ourselves. Take a moment to list the “neighborhoods” to which you have access.

Now, here’s some important news: Jesus is on the loose in all of them.

How do I know? Because Jesus is on a mission to redeem and restore all people. Jesus reminds Nicodemus of this when he spoke the well-known words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …” (John 3:16). God sent his Son for the world. His goal is not to save some and leave others out. Paul underscores this in 1 Timothy 2:4 when he says that God our Savior wants all people to be saved. Will everyone respond? Will everyone believe God? No. But that does not change the goal and desire of God in sending his Son. As if to emphasize that very point, God speaks of why he is sending his Son in Isaiah 49:6, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

So wherever you go, whether to the ends of the earth or just to work, if there are people there, you can be sure Jesus is up to something redemptively. His purpose is to redeem. His goal is full restoration. This is what Jesus does. He doesn’t get distracted. He doesn’t veer off course. His timing is always precise because his redemptive mission is always what he’s up to. Different people. Different timing. Different stories and pathways. Sure. But this is what he is up to all the time.

There is, of course, much mystery in how Jesus works out his plan in each person’s life. Some people are resisting, some are ignoring, some are oblivious, and some are almost ready. But Jesus is in the redemptive process of uniquely preparing each of them to receive what the Father would freely give them: forgiveness of sins and a new life with him forever.

That is Jesus’ mission.

And he invites us to join him.

This is an important change in mindset for most U.S. church members: Jesus is inviting me to join him on his mission. He does not give me a mission to do FOR him. Jesus is on a mission and he invites me to come WITH him.

The first time I realized Jesus was inviting me to come WITH him and not go FOR him was a great relief.  If I go FOR Jesus, I am doing the work and seeing the results of what I can accomplish. When I go WITH Jesus, he is doing the work and I am seeing the results of what Jesus can accomplish. One is hard the other is fun. One is exhausting the other is energizing. One causes me to worry (“Did I do everything correctly?”) the other causes me to be at peace (“Let’s see what Jesus does next.”). One tempts me to force things with people the other invites me to keep loving people.

So, for years, when I thought of myself as being in mission, I had it in my head that Jesus was sending me off FOR him … on my own … to do the best I could … which I knew would not be very good at all. I was afraid people would reject me or I wouldn’t know what to say or, worse, I would say something and botch the whole deal for Jesus. What a burden! Can you relate? But I had it precisely backwards. Jesus wasn’t sending me out to do his work FOR him, he was inviting me to come WITH him and join the work he was already doing.

What a relief! You see, only Jesus can do Jesus-work. So let him. Someone once told me, “I can’t. Jesus can. Think I’ll let him.” Our job isn’t to try and do Jesus’ work FOR him. Our job is to watch for, recognize and then respond to the work Jesus is already doing in the lives of people around us and JOIN him.

This is our new missional mindset.

We can do this.

Over the next few weeks, we'll find out how.

How's Jesus Messing with You?

As I travel around the country with Dwelling 1:14, a ministry I founded dedicated to discipling neighborhood missionaries, I have the opportunity to meet pastors and people from all types of congregations and communities. During our conversations I often pose a question designed to make them stop and think. I ask them, “How’s Jesus been messing with you lately?” The most common response? A knowing smile.

I’m finding that Jesus is messing with a lot of us.

People struggle to put it into words, but we’re sensing that Jesus is up to something, showing us something new, inviting us to perceive what he is doing next.  It seems to be right there in front of us and yet still just outside our ability to see clearly or articulate fully. We are like the blind man in Mark 8:22 who is beginning to see but cannot quite make out what he is seeing. It is frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time! We know we are beginning to perceive new things (exhilarating!) but we do not yet have the perception we need to clarify what we are seeing (frustrating!).

Can you relate? You are not alone.

There is a growing sense among the U.S. Christians I am talking with that Jesus is on the move, that he’s messing with our presumptions, calling us to something more than what we have settled for. He is giving many of us a holy discontent with the status quo so that we will look up from what we are doing, pay attention to him and start to wrestle with what he is currently showing us and asking of us. I hear it as I talk with twenty-somethings in places like Houston, New York City and Portland. I hear it as I talk with retirees in the Midwest and the Deep South. I hear it as I talk with the white pastor in Minneapolis; the Native American pastor in Alaska and the black pastor in New Orleans.  I hear it as I talk with congregational leaders from small towns and big cities, from new churches and 150 year old churches.

Something is coming to a close and something new is coming upon us.  And Jesus wants us paying attention.

It’s unsettling and uncomfortable.  And yet, I think because we sense it is from Jesus, people are also stirred, excited, like an adventure is about to begin. And an adventure is about to begin – the adventure of joining Jesus on his redemptive mission to our own community. That’s why Jesus is messing with us. He’s getting our attention. We get so focused on what we are already doing and what we are already struggling to maintain, we have little capacity to look up and focus on what Jesus is showing us next.

So, in his grace, Jesus has started messing with us.

If we’re going to be able to follow Jesus into his next adventure, he needs us paying attention to him. Jesus messes with us so that we stop and look around. He wants us to take note of what he is already doing around us. He wants us to look up from our routines and notice that the world is changing and he is already on the move in response.

And why does Jesus need our attention for that? Because he intends for us to join him.

In a remarkably short amount of time, the U.S. has become one of the largest mission fields on the planet. The odds are very good that right now, wherever you live in the U.S., the people in your neighborhood and workplace are largely unconnected to a local congregation and may not be connected to Jesus at all. We are no longer a church who is servicing a community filled with a variety of Christians. We are now a church who finds itself needing to be a missionary in a mission field.

And we weren’t trained for that.

Our congregations’ mindset and practices are perfectly calibrated for a U.S. culture that is essentially already gone. The church I grew up in in the 1960’s and 1970’s was well suited for the largely churched culture that existed in the U.S. at that time. However, in the ensuing decades the U.S. has dramatically shifted from a “churched culture” (where most people go to church or at least know they should go to church) to a “mission field” (where the majority of people do not go to church or feel an obligation to do so).  The trouble, of course, is that most churches and church-goers continue to think and operate as if the U.S. culture is still essentially churched and looking for a church home.

And they aren’t.

Uh, oh.

This is why so many churches across the country are struggling. The good news is that Jesus isn’t struggling and he knows exactly what to do next. In fact, he is already showing us and leading us into his response.  And that is his invitation to you, to see what he is already showing you and follow where he is already leading.

In the midst of our unsettled and uncertain world, Jesus is not wringing his hands in worry. He is not confused or discouraged. He is God. And while some of our churchy presumptions and programs may be in trouble, his Church is not. Jesus is very clever. He is using these shifting times to wake us up and get us ready to re-join him on his redemptive mission to our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools. Not everyone will pay attention and even fewer will respond. But Jesus is moving out on his mission to redeem and restore all people to his Father’s kingdom. And he invites us to join him.

“Come, follow me.”

Joining Jesus on his redemptive mission is what I mean by the term “missional living.” “Missional living” is simply living each day as if it were a mission trip. The difference, of course, is that instead of being on a mission trip to a foreign land, we are on a mission trip to our own community. We are Neighborhood Missionaries. The word “missional” is simply a descriptive word indicating that each part of our daily lives can now be seen as part of Jesus’ redemptive mission in our community. Going out to get the mail, going to the store for a gallon of milk or going to the school to pick up our kids now has mission potential.

But don’t worry. Joining Jesus on his mission is easier than we think and a lot more fun! Joining Jesus is not another layer of busyness on top of an already insane schedule. Instead, joining Jesus results in less stress, more life, more laughter and more fruit than what many of us are currently seeing. Living missionally simply requires a new “missional” mindset – in other words, we begin to think of ourselves as Neighborhood Missionaries – and to put some new “missional” practices into play along the way, which I will describe in upcoming blogs.

And congregational leaders, be of good cheer!  Joining Jesus on his mission does not require your church to change its worship style (again), or its mission statement or its current constitution. You don’t have to switch from an organ to a band or from a band to an organ. Joining Jesus’ mission doesn’t require installing a whole new layer of programming. It doesn’t even require a congregational vote. We don’t need to add more staff, build another building, or launch a capital campaign.

Joining Jesus’ mission is not so much about changing the whole church as it is about changing our own mindset and practices and inviting a few friends to come with us. Think of a “pinch of yeast” as it gradually spreads through “the loaf” of your congregation. We don’t try to convince the whole congregation to be “missional,” all at once, on the count of three. We start with the few who are ready and willing to come along with us and put the mindset and practices of a Neighborhood Missionary into play as part of their everyday lives. Joining Jesus’ mission is not about changing what we do when we go to church on Sunday mornings. It is about changing what we do when we go out as Church into our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools on Monday mornings. 

Like my good friend Gary Faith often says, “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.” If there was a day when that was acceptable for the U.S. church, it is now gone. Instead, it is time for Jesus’ Church to take up the mindset of a missionary with a few missional practices so that, by God’s grace, we will get new mission-results.

Old mindset, old practices, old results. New mindset, new practices, new results.

Makes sense.

Are you ready to take up the missional mindset and practices that will put you into position to join Jesus on his redemptive mission every day? By God’s grace, as we work our way through these next blogs, we will go from uncertainty to understanding and from anxiety to excitement about living as a missionary. We will discern a simple plan and take the first steps of joining Jesus on his redemptive mission in the places we already live, work and go to school.

It’s why he’s been messing with us.

So now that he has our attention …

“Come, follow me.”

Let the adventure begin.

The Missional Cross

"From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Matthew 16:21

The question as we approach Holy Week is, "Why?"

Why the cross?  Why "must" He go?

Hebrews 12:2 gives us a hint, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, ...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross..."

For Jesus there was something beyond the cross, that meant going through the cross, that was worth enduring the cross.  "For the joy set before Him" He endured the cross.

What was "the joy" that made the cross worth it?

If we're going to understand the cross we need to understand the mission of Jesus.  The cross was a means to accomplishing Jesus' mission.  The path to "the joy set before Him" went through the cross.  Understand what Jesus came for (His mission) and we will understand the cross (and why we are then invited to also take up our own cross).

We commonly think of Jesus' mission as making disciples (Matthew 28) or seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19) or saving us from our sins (1 Timothy 1:15).

But to what end?

Why are we forgiven?

What are we saved for?

Why did Jesus take away our sins by dying on the cross and rising again?  To what end?

The answer to that question is the mission of Jesus.  The answer to that question is why Jesus went to the cross.

So what's the answer?

"For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Jesus to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through Jesus' blood, shed on the cross."  Colossians 1:20

The mission of Jesus was to redeem and restore (reconcile) human beings to the Kingdom of His Father.

"For the Father has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:13-14.

That was "the joy set before Him". Rescuing us from the darkness we had chosen. Restoring everything to rightness. Redeeming all that is ruined.  Resurrecting all that is dead... beginning with human beings and extending out to all creation.  That is what the cross unleashed.  That is what happens when sin is forgiven and taken away:  Redemption.  Restoration.  Reconciliation.  Renewal.

"Behold, I am making everything new!"  Revelation 21:5

"I have come that they may have life (again), and have it to abundance!" John 10:10

Can't you just see the big smile spreading across Jesus' face?

For Jesus that made suffering "many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law" worth it.  That made being killed worth it.  That made enduring the cross worth it... for the joy He would have seeing you and me and all creation restored to His Father and His abundant life... to see everything made new again.

That's why the cross.

Easter in Your Neighborhood

About a year ago, I told you our story about the sunrise Easter gathering that sprung up in our neighborhood. As a reminder, I have included a portion of that blog post below.

In that post I wrote: "Last Sunay was Easter. It was a big deal for Christians around the world. And rightly so!  It is the day Jesus rose from the dead and unleashed His life and hope and powerful truth that is redeeming the world still today.  Christians gather in churches everywhere for Easter services.

"For my family, Easter Sunday started a little differently this year.  Instead of starting Easter in a church we started in an open green space by our home with about 55 neighbors from all over Westover Park (our subdivision down here in League City, Texas).

"Just before sunrise, we set up our lawn chairs facing East.  As the first streaks of sunrise started painting the sky, we began a time of quiet worship with the words of the angel at the empty tomb (Matthew 28).  We thanked Jesus for what He did and for what He is doing for us still today.  We sang and prayed and blessed each other.  We had the little children present their "resurrection eggs" (plastic eggs with a little item in it that helps retell the events of Holy Week).  We then had a brief message reminding us that Jesus is alive and on the loose in Westover Park and that we, as neighbors, can encourage each other to live in the reality of that good news... especially when life gets hard and hectic. The whole thing took about 30 minutes.  It was interesting to see how much excitement and reverence there was among the neighbors who gathered.

"Afterwards, about half of the neighbors then went to their own church services.  But for the other half of the neighbors, this was "church".  They had no other church services to go to on Easter.  I realized afterwards that if they had not come to the neighborhood gathering, they would have missed Easter and the good news that it brings.  We even had a couple people who were out for their morning exercise come by and join in!

"The sunrise was spectacular and God granted the miracle of keeping the mosquitos away.  But what struck me the most was how eager people were to do this... to connect with neighbors in this setting... to cross this line together... to gather for more than food and fun, although that is always a good time too.

So a year from last Sunday, what would it take for you to have a similar Easter gathering in your neighborhood?  Easter 2013 is March 31.  What can you do starting now to be ready to have a gathering of neighbors remembering and giving thanks for the death, resurrection and ongoing activity of Jesus in your neighborhood?"


As you know, a year has nearly passed since last Easter. March 31 is now a little less than a month away. How might you invite your neighbors to come togehter for a simple gathering?

Here are a couple of tips:

1) Keep it simple: the point of the gathering is not to imitate the big celebrations of your local congregation but to invite neighbors to come together to be reminded of what happened on the first Easter and give thanks to Jesus.

2) Keep it small: we didn't intend to have so many people. Word just spread. We invited a few who invited a few, etc.Start with a few invitations and see what God does.

3) Keep it short: brief is better than long. Better to have a brief devotional gathering and a longer time of hanging out and conversation afterwards. Wouldn't you rather have them talking about how cool this was than how long it was?

3) The format is not as important as the gathering: inviting people to come together to ackowledge the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the big win. Whether you have a devotion, a Bible reading, a song, a prayer, use Resurrection Eggs (see the link below) or all of the above, remember the most important thing happening is the gathering of friends around the empty tomb.

4) See if other neighbors want to help: Don't be a Lone Ranger. Invite others to help with the gathering.

So, it's not too late to do this. Last year, our gathering happened when a neighbor brought it up to us on the Tuesday evening of Holy Week!

Pray, knock out a simple plan and start getting the word out: Your place, Easter morning.

Conctact me if you have any questions I can help sort out with you. finkeonthemove@aol.com

 If you are interested in finding out more about Resurrection Eggs, you can go to this link, http://shop.familylife.com/p-1717-resurrection-eggs.aspx

Missional Grace

I have a good friend here in Houston named Jim Spivey who is always saying important things. He's not trying to be profound. In fact, he usually has a silly grin on his face. It's just that he has been undone by God's grace. And with that grace has come a radical rethinking of... everything.

All that to say, I really appreciate Jim's perspective.

His perspective has been redone by the reality Jesus speaks of when He says, "Whoever loses his life for Me will find it." It is only through our authentic death that we break into life that is authentically new. That process is not simply a theological statement Jim believes to be true. Jesus actually has done that to Jim. Has broken Jim. Killed Jim. And now Jim lives in a whole new reality of God's grace. That's why Jim KNOWS it is true. That's how Jim can trust the power grace has so completely. In the end he has found it is the ONLY thing that really works.

And now he has dedicated his life to helping others discover and live in this grace, too. Not just the theologically accurate grace we often (and should) proclaim from our pulpits. Not just the grace that gets us forgiven and gets us to Heaven. Grace starts with forgiveness and salvation. But it offers more.Grace when allowed to have its full permeation into us offers transformation. It heals. It restores. It reconciles. This grace is hard, though. It is freely given. But it is hard to receive and believe this deeply because we are so used to shielding ourselves from how much and how deeply we still need grace. That's why grace goes this deep only as we are broken down. It is as we die to ourselves, as we come to the end of ourselves, that we eagerly drink deeply of who Jesus really is and what He is really offering us... and through us what He is offering to everyone.

And isn't that our mission? Graced to be Grace to others.

Saving grace, yes. But grace that, by the Spirit's power, continues to press in. Grace that is powerful not just because of what we say, but because of who we now have become through Him and His grace.

Safe Christians who are nicely churched seem to have less capacity for this. We want order. We want things to be behaved and neat. We get angry or worried if this is not happening. When the true nature of humanity rears up, we respond by wanting to "fix" people or pass laws to control people. But, in the end, BEING grace is the only thing that really works.

Imagine what would happen if each person of grace became grace to the people who need grace around them.

So, why do I choose to focus on the unique power of grace today?

Because the events of Newtown, Connecticut show how screwed up the world is and how far it is from grace.

That brings us back to Jim.

A couple days ago Jim shared a text conversation he had with a friend. It went like this:

Friend: "The world is on fire, people are divided and hateful, and it seems that we have fully succeeded in doing any terrorist group's mission to ourselves and one another. It is a pain- and fear-filled space in which there is little room for love."

Jim: "Untrue. Love prevails, always. I am evidence of that, and here I am."

Friend: "No argument there."

Jim: "And because of the persistence of the problem, you can notice and ask a new question. Instead of 'Why is the world so messed up?', while unconsciously being the answer to that question, you can ask, 'Where is there evidence of love?', and more consciously and consistently BE the answer."

Jim finished up by saying, "When we endlessly complain (or worry) about things, while doing nothing to make the world any different, we totally reveal ourselves and can often poison innocent others. And when we desperately try to "fix" things, we frustrate ourselves and can often hurt innocent others. By simply "being" the difference we want to see - boldly, consistently, and out in the open - and leaving others alone, free to make their own choices, we frequently inspire others and stand for them as encouragement and hope, calling forth their best."


See what I mean?

A profound understanding of the real power of grace vs. the power of our anger, worry or desire to "fix" people.

Be the change you seek.

Be grace.

In the end, it is the only thing that really works.

This is our mission.

P.S. Some of us who want to BE grace, will hesitate because we want do something important for others and, truth be told, do it perfectly. This quickly paralyzes us and inaction is the result. Here are a couple of quotes I have picked up over the years that may help you:

“It’s better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.”

“All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action."

“What you wish you could do for many do for one.”

The 5 Practices: Ministering through Prayer


We try to understand it.  Control it.  "Do it right."

We analyze it.  Read books about it.  But still feel inadequate in it.

We hear other people's stories.  We read God's promises.  In fact, we could teach a Bible class on it.

We pray regularly in church and in our private devotions.

But ask most of us to pray out loud for someone and we still feel like rookies... searching for the right words, afraid we will sound dumb... thankful when we get to "Amen."

So it is likely that even the idea of "ministering through prayer" would strike some fear in you.

When I ask groups I am training how many of them look for opportunities to pray with people during the course of their days, the number is often zero.

I get pointed looks from the group that when translated into the vernacular mean, "Are you crazy??"

But there are two things that can make the practice of praying with people not only normal for you but a way by which the Kingdom of God is routinely brought into play in the lives of the people you are with.  (And not because you suddenly become an extroverted religious zealot.)

1) The first thing is to actually listen to what Jesus tells us about praying for people.

Turns out Jesus says less about "how to get it right" than He does about "just doing it."

Prayer is not to be controlled or "gotten right".  Prayer is to be unleashed.  It is not our words or our eloquence (or lack thereof) that gets put into play when we pray.  It is the Kingdom of God.  It is not our prayers that are powerful and effective but our King.  When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1), He didn't go into all kinds of theology.  He said that in order to learn how to pray start to pray.  Keep it simple.  Focus on the Father.  Ask for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done right here where we are standing as it is done in Heaven.  Just straight-out ask Him.  He also says the more we ask, seek and knock the more we will receive, find and have the door opened (Matthew 7:7).  "Freely you have received [of the Kingdom] freely give [of the Kingdom]," Matthew 10:8.

I personally see more remarkable answers to my prayers not because I pray so well but because I pray so often.  I don't pray for people on rare occasions, I pray as soon as they ask me to (more on that next).  Because I pray for more people I see the Kingdom more often.  Just like Jesus said I would.

2) Listen for when people actually ask you to pray for them.

That sounds preposterous, doesn't it?  Do people ever ask you to pray for them (besides church people or your family)?


People are asking you to pray for them all the time.  They just don't know it and neither do you.

However, as we begin to more routinely put the 5 Practices into play in our daily lives, we will find ourselves having deeper conversations with people.  That's what happens when you start noticing people and having time for them.  They talk with you about what's weighing on their lives.  They need someone to talk to.  The Lord brought them you.

When they have shared something real, something heavy going on in their lives, that is when they are essentially asking, "Will you pray for me?"  They certainly aren't using those exact words.  They have no idea that's even a possibility it is so out of the ordinary.  But the fact is, when they share what's going on in their lives, they are wishing there could be some hope.  They are wishing there could be some good news.  They just don't know where to go.  They have no idea you are a person of God and a person of prayer standing right in front of them.

But God does and so do you.

So, the next time that happens, and you have just listened to someone tell you something real and heavy, instead of saying something like, "Wow.  Good luck with that," try saying, "Wow... that's a lot to carry.  Would you mind if I prayed with you?"

I know you are looking at me with that, "Are you crazy??" look.  But that's only because you haven't tried it yet.

Wait for their invitation: their invitation for hope; their invitation for good news.  Wait for that moment when you either say, "Good luck," or, "Would you like me to pray with you about that?"

And choose prayer.

It's not about getting your words right, it's about inviting your King in.